The Baku City Circuit has featured on the Formula 1 calendar since 2016, except for its omission from the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a popular event with the drivers, teams and F1 fans alike. From an engineering perspective though, it presents some unique challenges that are worthy of examination.
The circuit’s base data is as follows:
- Lap length: 6.003km (3.73 miles)
- Race laps: 51
- Race distance: 306.051km (190.171 miles)
- Pole position: Right-hand side of the track
- Lap record: 1.43.009 (Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 2019)
- Fastest lap: 1.40.495 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2019)
- Distance from grid to Turn 1: 330m
- 2 DRS Zones: Into T1 and T3
- Full throttle: 75%
- Longest flat-out section: 2010m
- Gear changes per lap: 78
- Fuel use per lap: Approximately 1.96kg
- Time penalty per lap of fuel: 0.32 seconds
- Pit lane time traverse: 22 seconds
- Surface grip: Low
- Surface abrasion: Very low
- Tyre stress: Medium
- Tyre lateral loading: Low
- Pirelli tyre options: C3 hard, C4 medium, C5 soft
The asphalt roughness in Baku is one of the less aggressive surfaces of the season, like Monaco. The surface does not take much comparative energy out of the tyres and as a result the softest range of tyre compounds has been chosen by Pirelli.
However, in comparison to the last time F1 visited the circuit the range chosen is a step softer down to add an extra strategic element because the hard was not chosen by anyone in that years race. Teams often encounter issues in generating heat in the tyres in Baku because of the less abrasive nature of the surface and surface temperature inconsistencies due to the high amount of shadows cast onto the surface by surrounding buildings.
The Baku circuit is one of the most demanding of the season on brakes. Temperatures and wear are issues that are challenges for the teams to manage.
According to Brembo, the brakes are applied for approximately 20 seconds per lap, which is approximately double the amount of time of Imola and 1.2 seconds more than Monaco.
Turns 1 and 3 are classified as extreme braking events.
Turn 1 is a deceleration from roughly 334 km/h (207.5 mph) to 125 km/h (77.6 mph) in 1.85 seconds from the 105-metre mark. This is achieved with the application of about 131kg on the brake pedal with a resultant force of 5.5G.
At Turn 3 the cars arrive at approximately 315km/h and decelerate to 99km/h in 2.0 seconds over a distance of 56m.
The key to a fast lap at Baku is exit speed at turn 16 to maximise straight line speed on the main straight, which is just over 2km long.
Whilst teams will focus on lower drag configurations, it will be a difficult compromise as downforce is required in the slower and tighter complex from turns 8 through 12. The aerodynamic compromises made in Baku can be compounded by the often windy conditions.
As in Monaco, mechanical setup is critical at Baku. Rear mechanical grip for traction out of corners on to the long straights leading into Turn 1 and Turn 3 are critical. Engineers will be focussing on things like rear end squat and torsion bars for traction and minimising cambers and toes, particularly at the front, to minimise straight line speed wash off.
Managing the balance of brake and tyre temperatures is vey important as the long straights influence significant temperature drop off of the front axle whilst the hard traction zones generate high temperature in the rear tyres.
Generating temperature in the front and rear tyres simultaneously can be an issue that creates understeer/oversteer imbalances.
In 2016 qualifying Bottas set one of the more remarkable but very pertinent statistics for the circuit. The unofficial highest recorded speed of an F1 at 378km/h. You read that right.
The circuit offers two very good opportunities for overtaking in the two DRS zones leading into Turn 1 and Turn 3.
Baku will be a very interesting event and with the emphasis of low abrasion and mechanical grip it may very well be a progression of Monaco from an engineering perspective. There may very well be some interesting and specific technical updates brought to this circuit. However, with straight line speed being critical and the circuit being very green, we should be in for a very interesting race.